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Emission calculation tool to SURF towards understanding impact

Understanding the emission associated with IT service provision to educational institutes can be challenging, but having access to an emission calculation tool can help. The SURF corporative wants to build an internal understanding of the impact of the service they provide and a tool helps make this clear. Ecomatters has supported SURF in developing the tool.

SURF is a cooperative of Dutch education institutes and research organisations. Their goal is to procure, develop and provide IT services. The organisation provides a range of IT services for its members, which include (amongst others) the Dutch supercomputer Snellius, intranet solutions, network infrastructure, and (cloud)hosting.

Within SURF a need arose to start developing a deeper understanding of the environmental impact of their offered services. Given the range of services provided, it was decided to build an emission calculation tool to allow SURF product managers to easily get a good impression of the emission hotspots within their service. SURF has asked Ecomatters to support them in developing such a tool and a project was started. During the project, an initial version of the tool was developed to provide a dashboard-like overview of services using physical server infrastructure.

“Together with Ecomatters, we succeeded in designing a tool that maps the CO2 footprint of the SURF services in a clear and unambiguous manner. Because I did not know exactly what the result should be in advance, it was nice to have a partner who could think along well in terms of content, so that a good result was achieved.“ – Leonieke Mevius, Policy adviser Corporate Social Responsibility, SURF

Assessing the available data

The project started with scoping what information is available from manufacturers on emissions related to servers, switches, and other physical infrastructure needed for providing IT servers. The most commonly used source for disclosing information on emissions across different manufacturers derived through the PAIA algorithm. As it is accepted and utilised by industry actors it offers a good venue for collecting additional data in the future.

The design approach

With the data sources checked an initial document was developed to highlight the design approach for the emission calculation tool. Based on feedback the initial design was adjusted slightly to increase the ease of use and expand the scope of services that can be covered. The result allows the users to define how many servers, switches, etc. are used by a service, decide how long their service life can be extended (or reduced), and determine what energy source is used for service provision. This enables the user to tweak the results and understand what their choices would mean for the emissions across the life cycle.

Emission calculation tool dashboard

Figure 1: Emission calculation tool dashboard

The finished emission calculation tool

At the end of the project, the first version of the emission calculation tool was delivered to SURF. Further refinements are possible, but for now, it offers a good start to determine what levers can be used to reduce emissions across the full life cycle and focus on reducing energy use during the use stage. The tool allows for comparing different scenarios and provides the emission information in an easily accessible dashboard format.

Emission calculation tool
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